39. “My Forefathers Built these” Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu, India


While studying the style of temple architecture in the famous city of Kumbakonam, I noted the temples were built over a wide span of time from the 8th to 16th centuries CE by kings of various dynasties. Although each was a distinctive style, individual to the particular empire, all adhered to the precise mathematical, astronomical and geo-topographical principles of temple architecture as laid down in the ancient scriptural texts called Mayamata.

Behind the distinctive striped compound wall of a 15th c Vijayanagar temple, I saw a couple of stone carvers chipping away at granite slabs under the blazing sun. Unlike the high status their forefathers had enjoyed under the patronage of bygone kings, todays stonemasons were paid poorly, yet possessed the same skills as those who built the glorious old temples.

The simple tools they used were identical to those that their forefathers would have used as well in order to construct these architectural marvels more than 1300 years ago. A piece of string, a hammer and chisel, and an L-shaped piece of wood were all that were used.

The mortise and tenon joints were constructed with such precision with the skill passed down over centuries, that no mortar or cement was required. The fit was so precise that even a blade of grass cannot grow in between the blocks of stone.

The stonemasons I saw at work were carrying on the same tradition to repair some of the damaged stonewalls that had fallen after all these centuries.

Unlike North India where almost all  major Hindu  temples  was destroyed and desecrated from the 8th century onwards by invading Muslims from Afghanistan,  Central Asia and later by the ruling Muslim dynasties including Mughals such as Babur and Aurangzeb right down to the late 17th CE, the temples of South India remained relatively untouched due to strong local empires. Several have been in active worship since the date of their construction as living historical and architectural treasures.


Original:  Oil on canvas ; 12 x 16″  (305 x 410mm) ;framed

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